I’ve gotten a ton of emails from you guys recently on how to get the most out of your newly minted Gigabit Internet connection.
First of all, good for you! I’m jealous — way to rub it in. Mine is barely 250 Mbps. Well, it used to be over 300 Mbps for a long time until Comcast jacked up my bill just last month, and my wife made me pick food over bandwidth, or else. Anyhow, it was a long story.
But for years, I have had some business partners with Gigabit Internet. So when I say I know how it feels riding on a 1Gbps broadband connection, I speak from experience. That said, I’ll answer all of your questions here. (By the way, if you haven’t heard back from me directly, don’t take it personally. I get lots of emails and only have time for so many a day.)
Gigabit Internet: Why you won’t get it at every device
The most common questions I got are along the lines of “I only get this much speed on my laptop and that much on my iPad. What is up?”
Let me break it to you right away. Just because you have Gigabit Internet, doesn’t mean you’ll experience it on every device. In fact, that’s almost always the case. There are more reasons why you won’t than otherwise.
Here are some of them.
Gigabit is the baseline
First, that’s because Gigabit is the baseline of your home network infrastructure. Specifically, chances are your networking equipment, be it your router, your switches, your modem, and so on, caps at 1Gbps.
When that’s the ceiling speed, you can’t expect it to be the actual speed. That’s the same as you can’t expect to ride at the top speed of your Corvette at all times — even if you don’t care about speed limits.
Even though wired connection tends to have little overhead, it doesn’t deliver 100 percent efficiency. So a 1Gbps wired connection generally sustains at somewhere between 800 Mbps to 950 Mbps. As a result, you need to wait till all of your equipment support multi-gig (2 Gbps or faster) to have true Gigabit broadband locally.
Bandwidth is shared
Secondly, even when your provider delivers, the broadband speed is only accurate at the modem — the point where it enters the property. Right after that, it’s now shared between all devices in your home.
So, say, if you have two devices doing two free-for-all (non-QoS-regulated that is) file downloading jobs, then each only gets half of the bandwidth. And the more clients are actively at the same time, the lower the number at each of them.
That’s why, if you want to know how fast your connection truly is, there’s quite a bit of work to figure it out. In any case, you’ll note that your test scores tend to vary a great deal.
Most of the Internet itself is sub-Gigabit
Next, you should consider the fact that the speed that you pay for is that between your home and the provider. And just because you’re flying doesn’t mean the rest of the world is, too.
So, for example, when you access a service or website that has a sub-Gigabit connection or sending a file to your friend directly, the speed between the two of you will be that of the slower party. That’s the case of any network connection — the top connection speed is always that of the slowest party involved.
In other words, if you do a speed test and the test server is slower than 1Gbps, then its speed will be your result. And that can happen because almost anyone can set up a test server. By the way, this type of server needs fast upload, and that of mine is only around 6 Mbps. Yikes!
So you can truly enjoy Gigabit-class broadband only when Gigabit is true in the entire Internet as a whole, or at least the part you use. And that will take a while.
Your Wi-Fi is no Gigabit
The top-connection-speed-is-that-of-the-slowest-party notion applies to your local network, too. And more likely than not, your Wi-Fi’s sustained rate is slower than 1Gbps.
That’s because Wi-Fi has crazy overhead. A negotiated (ceiling) speed of 1.7Gpbs (4×4 Wi-Fi 5) generally averages about 800 Mbps of actual throughput. Now that’s fast, but it’s no Gigabit. And though you sure can get a souped-up router, most of your mobile devices have a 2×2 Wi-Fi 5 adapter, of which the theoretical ceiling speed (867 Mbps) is already lower than 1 Gbps.
It’s worth noting that even when you use Wi-Fi 6, which is currently also only available at 2×2 on the client-side, you’ll get the negotiated speed of 1.2Gbps unless you can use the 160 MHz channels which are not available in many cases.
So it’s fair to say; generally, your current local sustained wireless speeds range between 200 Mbps to 800 Mbps at best. Again, fast but no Gigabit.
You don’t need Gigabit
That’s correct. Generally, we don’t need Gigabit Internet. Most online applications require much less than that to work correctly. They won’t even use more bandwidth when it’s available.
Take streaming, one of the most bandwidth taxing things you can do, for example, you probably only use 30 Mbps at most and faster Internet doesn’t do anything.
There are very few applications in which the faster is better. In my experience, file downloading is one of them. But even then, ask yourself, how often do you need to get a ton of data at once? That’s not to mention most ISPs put a monthly data cap on your plan — that of Comcast is 1 TB.
But let’s say you need to download a few gigabytes — or a full feature 4K movie — at a time, that’d take around 30 seconds over a Gigabit connection. I’m sure you can find a few things to do while waiting — like taking a few deep breaths — even if your broadband is half the speed.
So, Gigabit Internet and super-faster Wi-Fi routers are overrated?
Definitely not. It’s great to have super-fast connections.
That’s because chances are you don’t use them alone. Even if you live alone, you likely have more than one device. The faster the speeds, be it locally or the Internet, the more devices connect at the same time, at their highest possible rates.
Take streaming again for example, a Gigabit connection will allow a few dozen devices to view 4K content from Netflix at a time. And that’s nice.
But it’s true that, unless you have a big family, after a certain point, faster connections don’t yield anything extra. It’s now just a luxury.
What router or mesh system should I get if I have Gigabit Internet and want to get the most out of it at all times?
If you live in a small home and only need a single router, make sure it’s one that can handle the fastest possible Wi-Fi speed. So get a router that has 4×4 specs on a single band.
Better yet, consider a tri-band router. That’s because bandwidth is shared, so the more bands a router has, the more concurrent clients it can handle without slowing down.
On the other hand, if you have a large home and need a mesh Wi-Fi system, it’s a good idea to wire your house with network cables. That’s the best way to bring a fast data connection to every room. And then get a mesh system with high ceiling bandwidth. If running network cables is not possible, a tri-band system is a must.
Also, consider equipment with multi-gig capability. That’s to make sure the wired connection has more than enough to deliver Gigabit in full. That said, definitely consider one of these Wi-Fi 6 solutions or a top-of-the-line Wi-Fi 5 one.
So slower Wi-Fi is no good for Gigabit Internet?
Not necessary. As I mentioned above, you only need the Internet speed fast enough for the application at hand. And almost all Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 routers are more than fast enough to deliver that type of broadband.
That said, there’s no need to go overboard with the fastest router on the market. Get one that has enough bandwidth for everyone in your family.
How to figure out the needed bandwidth
Here’s simple math in figuring out which router is good enough.
Take two-third the 5GHz bandwidth of a router, and that’s its ballpark sustained local speed. Now divide that number by your family members, you’ll get an idea of how much bandwidth each will get when all of you are online at the same time.
For example, the Asus RT-AX88U has the top speed on the 5GHz band of 4800 Mbps, meaning you can expect the sustained bandwidth of 3200 Mbps. So if you have four in your family, each will get 800 Mbps.
That doesn’t mean all of you will connect at that speed, or even close, but you’ll have an idea of everyone’s portion of your network’s capacity. Also, note that you can also use the router’s 2.4GHz for some extra bandwidth.
By the way, 800 Mbps is way more than anything you’d need for Internet access, so the RT-AX88U can easily handle a house of dozen or so members and still give everyone speedy access.
How fast is your broadband compared with others on Dong Knows Tech?
So how fast is your broadband on your device right now? Take a quick test below. And feel free to share what you find out in the comment section below, if you fancy.
If your numbers aren’t anywhere close to Gigabit, you’re not alone. Below are the average speeds of others who have taken this same test in the past couple of days, from around the world. While the numbers don’t represent the entire Internet, one thing is for sure, we’re still al long way to go to true Gigabit broadband.
Having Gigabit-class Internet access probably feels like you’ve moved up in the world. Enjoy it. You’re one of those lucky few, as long as you don’t pay too much for it.
Keep in mind that if you don’t get the full speed on your specific device for one reason or another, that only means there’s more bandwidth left for others in your home. As long as the connection is fast enough for the application at hand, the actual speed numbers don’t matter much.
That’s unless you want to brag. In that case, look at my numbers again. Yes, I’ve been uploading all of what you’re reading here on this website via a connection that’s slower than 10 Mbps. That’s to say, I won’t be much more productive, if at all, when/if I get a Gigabit connection. There’s only so much a fast connection can help.
So, as a guy who’s going to endure sub-Gabigit broadband for who knows how much longer, I will say this: It’s not how fast your connection is, but what you do with it that matters. And that makes me feel pretty good about not having Gigabit Internet, for now.